3/12/15 They Drove

They drove through towns on along  the mountain ridges. Gordy took his eyes off the road for an instant to look at rivers that churned and bulged with springtime runoff. Mai slept and woke and slept again, then drank some water and watched the mountain town, the ski resort and everything she had once known and now didn’t recede in the distance.

They came to sweeping fields bordered by mountainous hills. The fields were golden and fences and flowers grew by their sides. Mai rolled down the windows to let the spring air in. For lunch they stopped along the side of the road and few cars passed them as they ate some cheese and crackers from the cooler and drank water. Gordy cut an apple into slices and they shared that too.

“The kids will be wondering,” said Mai from the passenger seat.

“Wondering about what?” asked Gordy.

“Where we’ve gone.”

“Let’s sit in the field,” said Gordy.

He stood and walked around the car and help Mai stand and once she was steady he gathered up the little lunch. Mai held his arm with one hand and her cane with the other and together they walked twenty paces into the field they were parked along before sitting down amid the tall golden grass with much effort. Neither of them could sit cross legged so the both just flopped and lay on their backs, which made it difficult for them to eat, but the way the grass pressed their back, they didn’t mind. It was so alive.

“Brian will be calling and calling,” said Mai.


“Because we aren’t at home like we said we would be.”

“Yep. He will be angry with me,” said Gordy.

“And Elsa.”

“Elsa will understand better, I think,” he said.

“Because she has someone?” asked Mai.

“Yes,” said Gordy finding Mai’s hand and grasping it and feeling her skin that become so loose over her bones that it threatened to melt off her.

“How are we going to get up?” she asked.

“We don’t ever need to,” said Gordy.

This was the first real conversation he’d had with Mai in weeks. He didn’t want it to end. Perhaps it was something about the fresh Canadian air that was sparking her mind back to reality. Gordy raised a piece of apple to his mouth and bit down on it. He handed a piece to Mai. She ate it.

“I don’t think this is the place,” she said. “The butterflies don’t come here.”

And the moment was gone. Gordy felt it flutter away. There she went, talking about those butterflies, but which–her own back at home? Dying in their cage, or ones in her mind that she believe were real but weren’t?

Gordy wasn’t sure why the butterflies were such a stone of reality for her while so much about their time together had been washed away from her mind like water receding from the short to take with it what he pleased. But the butterflies, those would stay with Mai forever.




It’s amazing how long 3 years can seem. How much your life can change. In the winter of 2011 I left the United States to teach English in South Korea. I was alone there for the first two months before my then girlfriend would come to meet me and teach at a similar school. When I first got there I didn’t know anyone and so had to make my own fun. I knew my family and friends back home would be wondering what I was getting up to and I had bought a little Flip camera (this was before I had a smartphone) in order to take little videos and  post them on facebook.

Now, December, 2014 and I go back and watch those videos. Short time lapses of the clouds and buddhist temples, of the city near which I lived. Small excursions where I speak to the camera about where I’m going and what I’m doing. I even ask it questions as if it is another person, then shake to indicate if it knows the answer or not.

I wish the videos were of better quality. Sometimes when I pan the image tears slightly, which is a shame. And other times the resolution is unable to reconcile the changes in light and dark when outside and approximates some colorful blobs instead of carvings, paintings, or landscapes.

But the essentials are there. I see myself three years ago and I look so much younger to my own eyes. So much thinner. And in some ways, so much more adventurous. I went there alone and I left there alone. My then girlfriend was there for a little under a year. I was there for about a year and a half.

The friends I made there, the soccer team I was on, the hikes I went on with my friend Jim, were so fun. I even went to a K-Pop concert with forty of the biggest pop stars in all of South Korea. Even the president was there and I wasn’t sitting very far away from him.

And now those videos I took seem completely unreal to me. As though I’m looking back at a friend who has passed away, or a little brother who has grown up to be someone else entirely. Back then I wasn’t a writer. I mean, I liked to think I was a writer–but I wasn’t. I spent my weekends playing soccer or video games. I wrote when inspired but not everyday. I was so naive when it comes to understanding what it takes to be a writer. How difficult writing fiction is. It’s been three years since my return, three years in which I’ve written and read nearly every day in order to understand and learn how fiction works, and I’m still struggling. There has been improvement. But I still make the same mistakes. And I’ll continue to make them.

That young kid in the videos in South Korea, isn’t even that young. But he looks young and he was in a different place.



“I don’t know. My brothers are always failures,” said Koka. “They don’t know how to make money so they are always going to my father and asking for money.”

That didn’t sound good, as I was now working for one of her brothers.

“And my brother’s wife hates my father and called him and told him to die. She said, ‘die, old man, die.’ So it is their fault.”

I asked how she knew this. How could she know what transpired before her father’s death. She gave me a look a little like a young child being discovered in  lie. It was small a frail and could have been broken with a breath.

Then she said, “My mom told me,” as if she’d figured out a way out of my trap.

I couldn’t tell Koka what I really thought. I couldn’t tell her that I thought she was so wrapped up in her own guilt that she was throwing it out to everyone else. She was placing it anywhere she could because she knew her father, her family disapproved of her sexuality. Of course that was just another part of this tragedy.

Some weeks later the block of school was over and we were giving tests to the students. I was responsible for conducting the conversational aspect of the test. I looked up an interesting picture and showed each student the picture and asked them questions about it. At the end of each conversation I’d ask, “What will you do after this?” I wondered how they would take such an ambiguous question. “After this,” could mean after this conversation, after school, or after they aren’t studying English anymore.

One student told me, “I will go to different Hogwan (academy) because Koka call my mother and say Jong-Hwa and you can not teach me English.”

English Academy

It took me a moment to figure out what that meant. But later that night I understood what was happening. Koka had left the school, Jong-Hwa was a businessman, but not a teacher, and Esther wasn’t even that accomplished at English. I couldn’t carry the school on my own. Especially if Koka was calling parents of the kids and telling them not to send their children to our school.

Then Koka would call me in the evening and ask me how the school was doing.

“Not so good,” I told her. “A lot of kids are leaving for other schools.”

“Yes, I know it,” she said, but how she knew she didn’t reveal.

I realized I was in something of family feud and it wasn’t anything like the game show. Koka was actively sabotaging the school I was working at and so now putting my work visa at jeopardy. Without the job I couldn’t stay in South Korea. Despite these acts I didn’t hold it against her. She was so wracked with pain and guilt she was acting out of rage toward the world and we continued to talk and I continued to stay on her good side, as I didn’t want her as an enemy.